You can easily split people into two groups: those who are rabid fans of The Bachelor franchise, and those who know nothing about its many shows. Two years ago, Mike Johnson was a member of the latter; it was actually his friend who’d convinced him to audition, as he moped about not being in love. Mike tells Her Campus he “went in blind” to the entire process, in order to “take a chance on love.” Now, the former Air Force pilot is one of the franchise’s most beloved stars. What drew many fans to Mike was his kind soul, integrity and dazzling smile. He first appeared on Hannah Brown’s season of The Bachelorette and later the sixth season of Bachelor in Paradise. While he didn’t win either show, Mike left both with a better understanding of himself.
Mike was surprised about what being on The Bachelorette was actually like. He expected the show to be littered with alpha males — and in Mike’s season, Luke Parker took the cake for becoming one of the worst villains the show has ever seen – but he wasn’t prepared to travel the world for elaborate dates. What he took from this experience was a lesson about perseverance and pushing through. “I learned from this, from one task, [to] remember that there are no rules. If I want to speak to add or delete, I don’t have to follow the unwritten rule. There actually are no rules, he says. “And so I take that as a lesson now that if I want something, I’m going to go get it.”
Mike walked us through his path to self-love, how he’s holding up throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and where he thinks The Bachelor franchise needs to change in terms of diversity.
Self-love is an individual journey
Mike’s entire book describes his own journey to self-love. However, he believes that self-love is not the same path for every person; it’s an individualized definition defined by individualized desires. “There is no one true definition of it. Everyone knows what they desire, and how they desire to be loved by others, and how they desire to give to themselves,” he says. “And so I think that the definition of self-love is based on what would truly be authentic to who you are – to find out what makes you tick, find out what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, and be introspective within [that].”
“This is a really personal journey, and it is that, in and of itself, a journey. It takes time; I did not come from a little kid in Dallas, Texas, to being on TV, to being an Air Force pilot, to writing a book. It takes the entire journey. It wasn’t overnight,” he adds.
I urge you not to look at social media and feel you’re not beautiful. The idea that beauty looks like this is a complete failure of imagination
— Mike Johnson (@MikeJohnson1_) July 6, 2020
Let go of others’ expectations to truly love yourself
At the core of self-love is loving oneself — that’s literally what the word means. However, practicing self-love is a lot easier than truly loving yourself. According to Mike, the reason most people don’t love themselves is that it isn’t ingrained in society that we’re supposed to. Instead, we’re supposed to focus on the way that others view us, instead of comparing ourselves to others. “We are wrapped up in a world in which we come last. …We’re always trying to please someone else, whether it’s our social media handle, whether it’s a group that we’re a part of – for example, if I’m in a fraternity, or if I’m in the Air Force, I’m always trying to prove myself as someone else,” he says. “I think the best way to practice self-love is just the exact opposite, which is to prove yourself to yourself. Make yourself happy, and others around you will be happy to be with you.”
He entered The Bachelor franchise looking for true love, a validation through someone else’s affections. However, once he began truly loving himself, he found true validation and self-acceptance. “I was spending a lot of time in my life looking for love out in the world, exploring new experiences like reality TV, as I dared and tried to find love, so I wouldn’t be all alone. I realized that all love begins with self-love,” he says. “Once that clicked, I started standing up for myself. I started being true to my values and what I believe in. That was the key to success for all things.”
Practicing self-love is important, especially in a pandemic
Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s extremely important to continue practicing self-love. While it may be hard to go to the gym, or continue doing the same self-care techniques you used pre-pandemic, it still is important to make sure you’re taking time for yourself. According to Mike, the first step to practicing self-love during COVID-19 actually begins with paper and a pen.
“I would definitely say the first step would be to write down, ‘What is self-love for you?’ I just write down everything that comes to mind, all the things that I want to be able to accomplish. Write all the things that have hurt you, that have helped you and aided you. And just start there,” Mike says. However, he also acknowledged that what has worked for him might not necessarily work for everyone else. “The first word in self-love is self. It starts within you. I would be remiss if I said, ‘This is what you need to do.’”
Throughout the pandemic, Mike has used this time to focus on himself and achieving his goals. He surprisingly described his pandemic experience as great, as he hasn’t had as many distractions as he had before. He’s specifically focused on routinely exercising and building up his endurance.
“I get down to what’s important, which is my self-care and a love of myself. And I honestly have been able to be accountable, which is for me to go work out, so running,” he says. “And when I started at the beginning of quarantine, I’d do one mile. And it was very slow one mile, but now I’m up to doing four or five miles. And so I’ve been able to see that progression, which is really great.”
But even before the pandemic hit, Mike made sure to practice self-love. In The Bachelor mansion — an environment where you compete for someone’s affections — he was able to fight off the pressure for competition over Hannah Brown’s heart. Mike made sure to do his daily activities, like eating and make sure to check in with himself. In the end, even though he didn’t win his season, he knew it was nothing about him, but their compatibility. “I know that I am uniquely made, and there’s no one else like me,” Mike says. “So if the lead didn’t want me, it’s not my fault. I put my all out there, and I gave her the most authentic version of me.”
But loving others can be equally rewarding
While most people know Mike from his experiences on television, some know him more intimately as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. He was inspired to become a mentor by his mother, who joined the program once Mike and his sister left the house. He witnessed the joy his mother got when speaking about her mentee, and was convinced to become one himself.
Mike has truly enjoyed watching his mentee begin to change and grow up during their time together. While he acknowledges that having a mentee is different than having a child of his own, he still feels pride for the person his mentee is becoming. “I just tell it to him like a young adult, and you see them months later, they start to incorporate that, and there’s no better feeling,” he says.
All the same, he feels that he’s learned more from mentoring than his mentee has learned from him. The biggest lesson? “That I am getting older. I learned that things change. I mean, you’re young, I’ve learned what’s hot in hip hop, what dance is new on TikTok!”
On a more serious note, Mike explains that he’s become a more empathetic person as a result of mentoring. “I learned patience. I’ve learned that we’re all different people, but all quite honestly want the same thing: we all want to feel loved and to give love, to be loved,” he says.
‘The Bachelor’ needs to increase diversity, & not just in its casting
Up until now, Rachel Lindsay and Juan Pablo Galavis are the only leads of color, across the 40 seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Matt James will be the first Black Bachelor, and Tayshia Adams has filled in on The Bachelorette after Clare Crawley quit the show 12 days in. However, according to Mike, casting people of color as leads isn’t enough. Instead, the changes need to come from the top down.
“It’s great that we do have people of color now, that is a great thing. I want to highlight that, but we need people of color that are in charge of making things happen, he says. “We need people of color that are doers. We need people of color that are action creators, that are making the change. For example, if there are five caucasian people that are the decision-makers, that’s not enough. You need diversity out of those five people from the top all the way to the bottom.” He goes on to add, “When you have a diverse group of leaders, you will create the ultimate best product, because the people watching will be able to better resonate with it.”
While he cannot make any certain claims about why it has taken The Bachelor so long to cast diverse leads, he can guess. “I will simply say what our moms have always told us: Not broke? Don’t fix it. And so, I think from their small bird’s eye view, they created a successful show, which I think that we all can agree with.”
Mike urged people to continue creating petitions and asking the franchise for more change, because it works. In his opinion, the best way to truly shift the way that executives see the show is for mass groups of people to demand change in order to “open [executives’] eyes.”
To best share what he learned through his experience with the franchise, Mike’s now getting ready to publish Making the Love You Want, which takes readers through his life and his journey for self-love. Fans can pre-order the novel, which will be released on October 2, 2020 – World Smile Day – on Amazon, as well as on his website, where fans can purchase exclusive signed copies.
As a self-proclaimed nerd, Mike chose a book because he felt it was a more intimate experience than a podcast. Mike has always loved books – his home is full of hundreds of them – and he wanted to use the format he loved to inspire others. “It’s a journey between you and the words with that book, the excerpts of that book, the margins within that book. No one else gets to be a part of it,” Mike says. He feels the connection between a reader and a book is one that cannot be replicated, and he hopes it opens his readers’ eyes to self-love. “I put literal, honest tears on my keyboard to write this book. And I hope that everyone that reads it finds a piece of themselves in it, and grows from it,” Mike says.
While that journey is hard, it’s really allowed him to grow his self-confidence. What he hopes people glean from reading Making the Love You Want is simple: the road is tough, but worth it.